Thursday, January 3, 2013

Guatemala: Visiting Folk Art Artist Oscar Peren

Altar in Oscar Peren's Home
On a back road tour of the Guatemalan western highlands we were headed, early in the trip, through beautiful agricultural lands to the village of San Juan Comalapa.

Our destination was the home of folk art painter, Oscar Peren and his family. This little Mayan village has a history of painting in the naif or folk art style  Oscar Peren is one of the most well known of these painters. Comalapa also has a beautiful white church which, we found, is a centerpiece in much of his art.

He has exhibited widely in Guatemala, and abroad, and is represented in the book Arte Naif Guatemala published by UNESCO in 2001. (in Spanish)

Oscar was born in 1950, and lives and works with his family (some of whom are also painters) in his Gallery in Comalapa. And this is where we visited. We walked up the cobblestone street and were invited into the Peren home. The floor was laden with evergreen needles and there was an altar with candles and the end of a long room furnished with wooden tables and chairs. We were introduced to the family and enjoyed, through an interpreter, hearing directly from Oscar about his village and his work.
Soon the female family members brought in a wonderful Guatemalan stew and rice for us to eat. It was served with a fruit punch. We enjoyed the hospitality and looking at Oscar's colorful paintings which were hung around the room. It was an excellent meal.

By then we were very interested in seeing the rest of Oscar's, and his family's, work. We were invited into his gallery which included small and large paintings on canvas and painted wooden churches. The styles varied from folk art, some very humorous, to realistic scenes.
Oscar paints in two distinctly different styles. He paints his unique scenes of Guatemalan village life, especially in his native town, in his unique naif style. He also paints in a more contemporary "Western" style depicting landscapes in southern Guatemala. Some of his art depicted the local "chicken buses" with the passengers' faces real villagers and people from Oscar's family. My friend found a beautiful painting of Guatemalan women laundering colorful textiles at the side of a lake. 

It was easy to purchase paintings. They were not sent home with you framed. He simply rolled the canvas up and placed it in a tube for transport. I purchased a beautiful wooden church which was carefully painted by Oscar Peren. It opened to show a holiday scene.

Street in front of Oscar Peren's home and gallery
As we walked back through the village, we noticed more art... murals on the walls. There was much to photograph in this colorful village.

It is my understanding that the Peren family often hosts small groups at the gallery. If you are on a tour of Guatemala and have the chance to go to Comalapa to visit Oscar Peren, make sure you do. It is a genuine and authentic experience. 

Photo Credit: Elizabeth R. Rose

This experience was part of a Guatemala tour organized by Joan Griffith of  Wildwood Art Cafe in Austin, Texas and guided by area expert, Florencio Moreno. Find out more on the Authentic Presence website.